Fig 66 Fig. 66.—The Immaculate Conception. By Murillo.
In the Louvre.

Murillo’s representation of that extremely spiritual and mystical subject called the Immaculate Conception, has so far excelled that of any other artist that he has sometimes been called “the painter of the Conception.” His attention was especially called to this subject by the fact that the doctrine it sets forth was a pet with the clergy of Seville, who, when Pope Paul V., in 1617, published a bill making this doctrine obligatory, celebrated the occasion with all possible pomp in the churches; the nobles also gave entertainments, and the whole city was alive with a fervor of religious zeal and a desire to manifest its love for this dogma. The directions given by the Inspector of the Holy Office for the representation of this subject were extremely precise; but Murillo complied with them in general effect only, and disregarded details when it pleased him: for example, the rules prescribed the age of the Virgin to be from twelve to thirteen, and the hair to be of golden hue. Murillo sometimes pictured her as a dark-haired woman. It is said that when he painted the Virgin as very young his daughter Francesca was his model; later the daughter became a nun in the convent of the Madre de Dios.

The few portraits painted by Murillo are above all praise; his pictures of humble life, too, would of themselves have sufficed to make him famous. No Spanish artist, except Velasquez, has painted better landscapes than he. But so grand and vast were his religious works that his fame rests principally on them. It is true, however, that in England and in other countries out of Spain he was first made famous by his beggar boys and kindred subjects.

Murillo and Velasquez may be said to hold equivalent positions in the annals of Spanish Art—Murillo as the painter for the church, and Velasquez as that of the court. As a delineator of religious subjects Murillo ranked only a very little below the greatest Italian masters, and even beside them he excels in one direction; for he is able more generally and fully to arouse religious emotions and sympathies. This stamps his genius as that of the first order, and it should also be placed to his credit, in estimating his native talent, that he never saw anything of all the Classic Art which was such a source of inspiration to the artists of Italy. Stirling says: “All his ideas were of home growth: his mode of expression was purely national and Spanish; his model—nature, as it existed in and around Seville.”

While painting a marriage of St. Catherine for the Capuchin Church of Cadiz, Murillo fell from the scaffold, and soon died from his injuries: he was buried in the Church of Sta. Cruz, and it is a sad coincidence that this church and that of San Juan, at Madrid, in which Velasquez was interred, were both destroyed by the French under the command of Soult.

The character of Murillo was such as to command the greatest respect, and though he was not associated with as many royal personages as Velasquez, he was invited to court, and received many flattering acknowledgments of his genius. His fame was not confined to his own country, and his portrait was engraved in Flanders during the last year of his life. He had many strong personal friends, and his interest in the academy and his generosity to other artists prove him to have been above all mean jealousies: he loved Art because it was Art, and did all in his power for its elevation in his own country. It is probable that since his death more money has been paid for a single picture by him than he received for the entire work of his life. The Immaculate Conception, now in the Louvre, was sold from the Soult collection for six hundred and fifteen thousand three hundred francs, or more than one hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars. At the time of its sale it was believed to be the largest price ever paid for a picture.

Sebastian Gomez (about 1620) was a mulatto slave of Murillo’s, and like Pareja he secretly learned to paint. At last one day when Murillo left a sketch of a head of the Virgin on his easel Gomez dared to finish it. Murillo was glad to find that he had made a painter of his slave, and though the pictures of Gomez were full of faults his color was much like that of his master. Two of his pictures are in the Museum of Seville. He did not live long after Murillo’s death in 1682.

Don Alonso Miguel de Tobar (1678-1758) never attained to greatness. His best original pictures were portraits. He made a great number of copies of the works of Murillo, and was chiefly famous for these pictures. There is little doubt that many pictures attributed to Murillo are replicas, or copies by the hand of Tobar.